Omicron a much more mutated variant: NIV director Priya Abraham
Omicron has over 50 mutations in its genome which reflects 30 amino acid changes in its spike protein, said Priya Abraham, director, Indian Council for Medical Research – National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV)
PUNE: Omicron has over 50 mutations in its genome which reflects 30 amino acid changes in its spike protein, said Priya Abraham, director, Indian Council for Medical Research – National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV). Abraham was speaking during a webinar, ‘Getting the basics right about the third Covid-19 surge’ on Thursday.
“The Omicron variant has spike protein which attaches to the host cell’s protein. It is also the protein which is the component of different vaccines. Omicron is a variant which is much more mutated. And that is why it is now the fifth of the variants of concern,” she said. Studies in India are also reflecting that the Omicron variant escapes immune response, she added. India is developing a test kit that can identify the Omicron strain through PCR testing. “India at present is undertaking several studies. One of them is related to genomic surveillance where over 50 labs are involved. Another study is to look into whether the Omicron variant truly escapes immune response. We have not published the research yet. But the findings are in line with that of the global community,” said Abraham. It is plausible that a person infected with BA 1 can get the second infection of BA 2, she said.
“However, as both variants have not been here long, it is too early to say that we have found such a case. Theoretically speaking, it is plausible. But terming it a reinfection would be too soon. Technically, a person has antibodies from infection as long as 90 days,” said Abraham. She added that using masks and following Covid appropriate behaviour is important in curtailing the cases. Whether this is the last wave, Abraham said that it all depends on the stability of this variant. “It all depends on the stability of the strain. There are three cousins of the variant which are widely circulating. BA 2 is very rampant in this country. This is not a stable strain. We need to contain this strain of virus as much as we can,” said Abraham. About testing, she added that we are using RT PCR which is being conducted in many labs across India. “The world over today, scientists are carrying out Omicron specific PCRs to detect if the infection is due to Omicron. New innovations are underway to test which variant has infected the patient. India is also involved in developing such tests,” said Abraham.
Speaking during the webinar, Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, renowned epidemiologist and former head, Indian Medical Association, said that reinfection is frequent in this wave. “This virus is infecting people and also infecting previously vaccinated people. The virus is fast spreading but reinfections are mild. It is extremely uncommon to find reinfections that are severe. The biggest lesson that Omicron taught us is that the virus will come again,” said Dr Jayadevan.